Parents and school officials who keep kids out of extracurricular activities because of poor grades may be making the problem even worse.
That’s the consensus of researchers, who for years have drawn a direct correlation between participation in extracurricular activities such as sports, art, theatre, and dance, and academic achievement.
“The issue about children who fail academics and are not allowed to participate [in extracurriculars] makes sense, but we really need to question whether that’s working,” said Dr. Jan Hughes, professor emeritus at Texas A&M University who has extensively studied the connection between extracurricular activities and academic success.
“When children are struggling academically and extracurricular activity might be the only bright spot in their lives, how does that impact them?” added Hughes. “Catching youth who begin to struggle academically early is important, so they can maintain passing grades necessary for participation.”
When children are struggling academically, extracurricular activitIES might be the only bright spot in their lives.
Hughes is not alone. Over the years countless studies have emerged to show the value of extracurricular activities and their connection to kids’ health, sense of wellbeing, confidence, relationship skills, physical health, and academic performance.
The National Center for Education Statistics concluded: “Extracurricular activities provide a channel for reinforcing the lessons learned in the classroom, offering students the opportunity to apply academic skills in a real-world context, and are thus considered part of a well-rounded education.”
Another study by Modi, Konstantopoulos, and Hedge, demonstrated that gifted students were 50% more likely to “spend their time out of school participating in constructive activities.” Further, the authors found that “extracurricular activities also help at-risk students.”
A Positive Self Image
Why the correlation between extracurriculars and academic success?
Experts believe in part it is because these activities give kids something to look forward to beyond the drudgery of academics, particularly in this era of intensive testing and academic measurements.
These clubs and groups also give kids access to a ready-made network of friends all engaged in the same activity – something that becomes increasingly important as kids age and peers take on more and more importance.
Lastly, extracurricular activities enable kids to put into practice many of the skills and knowledge they’re learning in school.
Extracurriculars Help, Rather than Hurt
Ironically, many of the programs aimed at helping at-risk students, such as dropout prevention programs and remedial education, “focus on the deficits of students and serve as a catalyst in the formation of deviant groups.” Translation: treating troubled kids as troubled kids reinforces in them the notion that they are troubled kids, making it more likely they will band (gang) together.
Conversely, research by Ralph McNeal showed that “students who participate in athletics, fine-arts activities, and academic organizations” were a whopping 40% less likely to drop out of school.
Students engaged in extracurriculars are far less likely to drop out, and far more likely to have high GPAs
Similarly, a study by Silliker and Quirk revealed that boys and girls who participated in extracurricular sports had significantly higher GPAs while in season compared to out of season.
It’s worth noting that while most studies show that the type of activity is less important than a child’s consistent commitment to it, researchers have found that participation in sports shows particular promise when it comes to academic success.
“If you’re looking at children’s change in school involvement and achievement, it is kids who are in athletics and sports that are most likely to benefit in terms of their being engaged in or part of a peer group that will support their academic achievement,” said Hughes.
And, of course, kids who are physically active are likely to be healthier and less likely to engage in reckless, illegal, or even dangerous behavior.
So if your child is struggling with academics, don’t blame extracurriculars. Research says those activities are helping, and the problem lies elsewhere. Where?
For starters, remember that every child is different. Where one child may be able to participate in lacrosse, student government, and a STEM club while carrying a full class load, for another a single activity is sufficient. As the researchers showed, it isn’t the type of activity or number of activities that matter so much as ongoing participation in one.